Friday, May 16, 2014

Love Our Neighbor

There are several of the Great Spiritual Teachers of centuries past from whom I draw my spiritual inspiration and guidance.  They take me down paths I wish to travel in my life, paths of personal discovery as well as greater understandings beyond just my own self.  Most often these paths are anything but simple or tranquil; challenges, upheavals, and loss of fancied illusions are the litter along my spiritual roadside.  But I recognize that it is in this instability and change that my true discoveries are to be found – if I but openly look for them.  And so my walk continues on, always knowing that the next challenge is still to come.

Each of my Teachers offers me a somewhat different spiritual perspective and topical focus.  To be able to draw from that breadth enriches the journey all the more.  Yet there is one common teaching that invariably transcends these individual teachings: the expectation to love, and be kind to, all other beings.  It perhaps seems on surface that love and kindness are the easiest things to do; it proves to be one of the supreme challenges to living in God’s image.

It is fairly easy to love those who love you, treat you well, are always supportive, and who are never a hurdle to our ambitions and well-being.  But we are continually reminded, and called to task, that such a selective subset for our love is not enough.  For Jesus, it is to love our neighbor as we would be loved, and for that love to be as boundless and continually forgiving as God’s own deep love for each of us.  For Buddha, it is the call for compassion and empathy towards all sentient beings, with appreciation and sympathy for the circumstances of their suffering.  For Muhammad, it is the gift, the obligation, of welcoming hospitality shown towards all strangers who come to our house.  There are no “except for’s …” here, no nuances, no picking and choosing.  At times we may be called upon to necessarily resist someone’s inappropriate actions.  But we are never excused from sustaining our love, compassion, and hospitality for them.

In this time and place of so much diverse lifestyles, opinions and perspectives, it can be easy to step into judgment and denigration towards our neighbors.  In a lifetime of victimization from verbal assaults, ill-treatment and deception, it can be easy to hold onto and nurture deep-seated angers at past experiences with some individuals.  Even having the desire to love these neighbors who do not think as we do, act as we do, or have been a specific cause of our unhappiness, can seem an impossible task to achieve.  Until we remind ourselves that none of us really knows our own truth and story, much less other people’s full truth and complete story, in spite of our arrogance in thinking that we do.  All of us know what we know, believe what we believe, see what we see, conditioned and limited by our own individual experiences.  And our experiences are miniscule in proportion to the breadth of experiences of all of humanity.

In truth, hatred is easy; extending forgiving and accepting love is hard.  Anger is easy; extending embracing compassion is hard.  Our Great Teachers of the past understood this, and nevertheless chose to follow the hard path.  There are some such good souls even today who also follow the hard path with success, and make themselves available to lead us all by their example – if we choose to follow.  They lead us not into the dark tent of separation, judgment and condemnation, but into the welcoming embrace of unity, openness and acceptance.  They remind us of the universal lesson that arrogance leads not to our spiritual realization, but that humility is the walking stick that supports us in our journey.

We are often frustrated that others do not see what we see and think as we think, why they “don’t get it.”  God observes us fighting so with each other, and wonders, “Why don’t they see all that I see?  Why don’t they all get it – together?”

©  2014   Randy Bell